What does an inclusive history of Lawrence look like? I’ve been thinking about this question during my time as the Hall Center intern here at the Lawrence Public Library. My main project this summer is to digitize community history: Lawrence community members can bring in objects that tell a story about Lawrence and have them digitized and included in our digital archive, the Digital Douglas County Project. A primary goal of this project is creating a more inclusive, representative history of Lawrence, one that isn’t limited to the experiences of only particular communities, to ensure that all voices can be heard in the telling of our community's history.
While this project is ongoing until July 20th, I wanted to share three things that I’ve learned so far. Whether you’re working on a similar community-driven project, are interested in creating an archive of your own, or just want to get to know the Lawrence community better, these are a few tips for making connections, meeting your neighbors, and hearing their stories.
- Get off Massachusetts Street
Yes, I know. Mass Street is great. But in truth, Lawrence is much more than Mass Street—for or one, not everyone hangs out there, or even feels welcome or safe there. It’s not the only place to find Lawrence stories. Try visiting the Sunrise Project for a cup of coffee and a walk through their incredible community garden. Go to the VFW’s Friday night fried chicken dinner for home-cooked food and great conversation (thanks, Terez and Joe!). Attend a Ramadan service at the Islamic Center of Lawrence to learn more about Islam and the positive connections between fasting and cognition from Dr. Zaidi. Visiting places in Lawrence that aren’t your usual haunts can help to get connected with fellow Lawrence community members and expand your understanding of what makes Lawrence Lawrence.
To find objects and stories for the archive, I’ve relied on community members to help connect me to other people. Last week, I followed a lead from a helpful store owner of a North Lawrence antique shop to an office building to find someone who might know the history of the antique shop building. When I found him, he recommended that I drive over to another person's house and find them in their garage, so I could ask them about the building’s history. This chain of people helped lead me to the complicated and interesting story of the antique shop, which I would not have been able to find online or through official documents.
However, objects themselves have also done their fair share of networking. A half-cropped person in a photograph, a signature inscribed on the bottom of a cup, a quilt pieced together by one person and finished by another: these connections between people and their stories have been some of the most exciting— it’s hard to not feel like a detective, following and tracing these connections across Lawrence in pursuit of a story! Letting objects lead the way and following those paths have led to new connections to community members and to important and interesting stories.
So much of my job this summer has been listening to the stories of Lawrence community members, which has been a real honor. Most of the time, the stories that extend from the objects that have been brought in for digitization emerge in the middle, or even end of a conversation. Yesterday, I met with a woman at her home to go through manila folders of old letters and photographs. While most of our conversation centered around identifying people in the photos, at the end of our visit, she mentioned something offhand about one of the recurring people in her photos, which led to one of the most interesting stories I’ve included so far in the archive (check it out later this summer and see if you can guess which photo I’m talking about!). Listening and letting these kinds of stories emerge has been an essential part of this project.
If you have objects that you’d like to digitize and digitally donate to the archive, or if you have any questions about the project, email me at firstname.lastname@example.org. You can make an individual appointment to share your stories and have your items digitized, or snag a reservation for a spot at our You Are Local History event on June 30th.
—Dana Comi is a Hall Center for the Humanities intern at Lawrence Public Library this summer.